Drought & Duststorms
Drought is more common in the United States than what you may believe. Based upon the Palmer Drought Severity Index, a part of the United States has had either severe or extreme drought every year from 1896 to 1995, and in 72 out of those 100 years drought was experienced in over 10% of the country. Extensive drought has been less frequent but still all too common. In 27 of the 100 years from 1896 to 1995, severe or extreme drought covered more than one-fourth of the nation. Major, widespread severe or extreme drought covering one-third or more of the nation has been seen in 13 of those 100 years, and once over half of the nation had severe or extreme drought. The worst drought on record was that of the "Dust Bowl Days" in the 1930's. In 1934, 65% of the United States suffered from severe or extreme drought. In these Drought pages, the more extensive, major droughts will be discussed in more detail.
Spring Drought of 1816
Drought gripped much of the eastern United States during the spring of 1816, especially the southeastern section. At mid May, no rain at all had fallen in Charleston, South Carolina for six weeks. Dust there was so fine and light that it hung like fog in the air and could not be kept out of even the inner parts of houses. Crops, of course, suffered greatly. In New Jersey, numerous farmers plowed down their winter grain crops. Along with the dry weather came forest fires. In the State of New York, one such fire consumed a few houses.
Drought of 1854
Severe drought gripped much of the eastern part of the nation during the summer of 1854. When the middle of August came, the Portage Democrat (most probably in Portage, Wood County, Ohio) stated that, "We have not had rain enough thoroughly to lay the dust in the streets, since the twenty-ninth of last June. Gardens, cornfields, and potato fields are going by the board." This paper also noted that, "The grass fields are crisp and sere. The swamp south of this village, which took fire over three weeks ago, is still burning."
By the end of August, the drought was reported to be general "throughout the Union. In Illinois, Indiana, New York, Maine, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio, the land is said to be literally parched; and all kinds of fall crops are suffering for want of rain. In each of the above states the corn and potato crop will be very light." This was according to the Holmes County, Ohio Farmer And Democrat. On August 17, the heat was so great in Savannah, Georgia that 8 people became "sun struck", and three of them died. Alabama's cotton crop was hurting badly.
A report from the Toledo Blade (in Toledo, Lucas County, Ohio) at the end of August, 1854 noted that, "The whole country is filled with fire - vegetation is so dry that it crackles up like gun-powder at the slightest approach of anything like fire. The fire in the swamp south of this village, which started about two months ago, is still burning. A large tamarack swamp in the west part of this township, near the Feeder is on fire. We learn that a very large tamarack swamp in Franklin [Warren County, Ohio] is also on fire. There are several swamps on fire in Rootstown [Portage County, Ohio]. Indeed, fires in swamps, in fields, and in woods, are prevalent all around us." According to the Ravenna Democrat, the roots of the grass had even burned out where these fires had burned.
Missouri was also among those states affected by the drought, although the extreme southeastern part of that state was going to see abundant crops. For the rest of Missouri, however, the middle of September saw corn and potato crops a failure for the most part.
As usual, some areas got more rain than did others, but the dryness in northern Ohio is well illustrated by the rainfall record at Oberlin, Lorain County, Ohio where 1.95 inches fell in June, 2.44 inches fell in July, 1.07 inches fell in August, and just 0.65 inch fell all of September, 1854. In Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh recorded 2.06 inches of rain for June, 1854, 1.45 inches in July, 1.13 inches in August, and 1.76 inches in September. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania received 2.84 inches of rain in June, 1.62 inches in July, 0.90 inch in August, and 2.46 inches in September.
In New York State, Geneva got 2.48 inches of rain in June of 1854, 0.89 inches in July, 0.77 inches in August, and 3.27 inches in September. Gouverneur, New York got only 0.10 inch of rain all July and just 1.85 inches in August of 1845. Springdale, Kentucky recorded 3.81 inches of rain for June in 1854 but then just 1.60, 1.56 and 1.92 inches for July, August and September. So it went throughout the drought-plagued area - much less rainfall than normal during the hot summer months, causing crops to stunt and shrivel.
Drought of 1895
A drought which lasted for about three months covered much of the eastern part of the United States in 1895. In most areas it began during the month of August and continued through October with September generally being the driest month of all. Much of the Atlantic coast, with some exceptions, received about half the normal rainfall from the first of August through October. Similar conditions prevailed in the Ohio and Mississippi Valley regions. Southern Ohio, Kentucky, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia seemed to be hit hardest. Many small streams, wells, ponds and springs dried up, causing hardship on farmers trying to get water for their livestock. Damage was also done to pastures.
Rainfall at Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky totaled only 1.27 inches for the three months of August through October, 1895, and only a trace of rain fell there all September. Princeton, in Caldwell County, Kentucky received no rain at all in September, while Caddo (Pendleton County, Kentucky) got a mere .03 inch for September and 1.78 inches for the three drought months. Richmond, Madison County, Kentucky registered a meager .44 inch of rain for the period September through October.
In Ohio, Greenfield, Highland County, measured only a trace of rain for September, 1895 and 2.90 inches for the period of August through October. Washington Court House, Fayette County, received less than an inch of rain during every one of those three months, ending up with just 2.25 inches for the three month period. Jacksonburg, Butler County, got .20 inch of rain in September and .40 inch in October.
Fairmont, Marion County, West Virginia recorded just 1.10 inches of rain during August of 1895 and only .84 inch in September. Meanwhile, Rowlesburg, Preston County, got only 1.89 inches of rain in August, .42 inch in September and 1.15 inches in October. Grafton, Taylor County, and Glenville, Gilmer County, West Virginia received .44 and .50 inch of rain, respectively, in September.